What-if - Douglas MacArthur was allowed to use nuclear weapons in Korea?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by CenturionMagnus, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. CenturionMagnus Well-Known Member

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    What would be the outcomes of such an event? How would China and the USSR react, along with the rest of the world, and how would the Cold War continue?
     
  2. Red Cesar Well-Known Member

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    It wouldn't. Nuclear war.
     
  3. Simon Thread Killer Extraordinaire

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    Would it? Granted they supported them on the quiet and sent some pilots and planes, but are the Russians really going to end everything over North Korea? Considering that the Russians only just detonated their first bomb six months before festivities kicked off I'm not even sure that they would have enough nuclear weapons or the means to deploy them to effectively threaten the US.
     
  4. Colin Donor

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    I think that he would probably only get away with using one before the political fallout in Washington would mean that Truman had to fire him early.
     
  5. LostCosmonaut Comic Atomic

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    I think they might have been able to stick one on a Tu-4 for a one way mission. Given the vulnerability of B-29s to jet powered interceptors as demonstrated in Korea, this would probably end with the Russian bomber getting shot down somewhere off the Pacific coast.
     
  6. Georgepatton Aching with Hatred

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    How many, and where? Is Mac being allowed to do as he pleases with the bomb (n which case China is going to get hit, and probably pretty hard), or has Truman just approved one or two?
     
  7. ivanotter Well-Known Member

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    Would he even have looked for any authorisation if they had been in the theatre? This was in the days with no fancy triggers and safety circuits.

    I think he would have used them on China, by and large to show how good a commander he was, not being defeated.

    The targets would have been the bridges and the assembly areas in China I believe.

    What could China have done about it? not a lot, really.

    Something else with Soviet. But then again: Why should they? It was a Chinese show.

    Ivan
     
  8. Bob in Pittsburgh Well-Known Member

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    I would expect to see tanks rolling through the Fulda Gap. At the time I Infantry was the only United States division in Germany. So you would now have 2 nuclear wars.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  9. ModernKiwi 1% more

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    He wanted to use 27 nukes. That was roughly 10% of the US arsenal at the time. An arsenal which was completely and utterly controlled by SAC (cf. The Revolt of the Admirals). There is no way of him using nukes without going through the chain of command. There is very little likelyhood of there even being nukes in the theatre at the time.

    SAC are going to resist like hell the idea that an Army man could tell them where and when to use their precious bombs. The only way this is going to happen is if Truman gives the go-ahead. And that's only going to happen if the Chinese intervention gets worse - which it can't really. They outran their line of supply and by the time of the UN counterattack were utterly exhausted.
     
  10. Bob in Pittsburgh Well-Known Member

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    I doubt that any use of atomic weapons would have occurred without specific Presidental approval. That was true in 1951 and is still true today.
     
  11. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Actually, in early 1951, the actual atomic warhead stocks were still under the control of the Atomic Energy Commission. Not SAC.

    Which bothered LeMay to no end.

    And ultimately, as Richard Rhodes has noted in Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, the Joint Chiefs rectified this in part by cutting a deal with Truman: MacArthur's head in exchange for SAC control of some warheads.
     
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  12. ModernKiwi 1% more

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    I'm pretty sure from my reading of Revolt of the Admirals that by 1949 (may even have been 1948) atomics were USAF controlled. Hence their big stink over the USN gaining control of some.
     
  13. asnys Do Not Fear the Future

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    Nope, not till Korea. See Atomic Diplomacy During the Korean War. USAF controlled the deployment plan - and they may have had some bombs missing their fissile cores, I forget - but AEC still had custody of the actual cores.
     
  14. zoomar Curmudgeon

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    As others have noted a theatre commander like MacArthur could not unilaterally order the USAF to use nuclear weapons against targets in North Korea or China.

    But assuming he received approval and the weapons were used, I am not so sure WW3 would be the result.

    The Korean War occurred only a few years after the first use of nuclear weapons in war and I am not sure the notion that they were an "unthinkable" option in a limited war had solidified. Presuming the attacks are made against clear tactical or strategic targets (Chinese troop concentrations, Yalu River crossing sites, etc), I think it is entirely possible the USSR - with only a few nuclear bombs at its disposal and no reliable way to deliver them to the continental USA - would sit out.

    The US would unconditionally "win" the Korean War, unify the Korean penninsula, and possibly be in a position to help the Nationalists on Taiwan (who were still the widely recognized government of China and it's representative in the UN Security Council at the time) reinitiate the Chinese Civil War from a position of strength and US support. This could be iffy.

    Over the long haul, such an act would be diplomatically and militarily disastrous for the USA. The image of the US would be tarnished for years to come, and the USSR would come out smelling like a rose. The precedent would be set that nuclear weapons were just another tool in the tool box which would probably lead to further use of these weapons in assymetrical situations. MAD would lose a lot of its credibility, and eventually we'd probably slide into global nuclear war, "toe to toe with the ruskis"
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2012
  15. Alex1guy First Of His Name

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    A VERY one-sided nuclear war. The USSR only had a few nuclear weapons and as above, no guaranteed means of delivery. The real problem would be that nuclear weapons would be legitimized as "conventional" weapons, which is a rather scary concept.
     
  16. Grimm Reaper Desperate But Not Serious

    Meanwhile MacArthur is on the record as allegedly violating the direct orders of Truman regarding provoking a war with China...which may not be a strong point in his favor with Harry.
     
  17. fscott As you age things get gayer

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    Actually I doubt it would tarnish America very much since the US did not start the war or invade China. S Korea would control all of Korea. It may make N Vietnam think twice regarding going to war against the south. The part of world opinion that would hate the US already did. The Soviets would not risk anything in 1950 and 51. The NATO allies would feel better about the question would the US protect them. The cold war would be colder and the Cuban Missile crises may not have happened, at least like in OTL.
     
  18. ModernKiwi 1% more

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    You are absolutely right. SAC however retained control of the only method of delivery of said atomics.

    Truman had already dictated back in 1947 that the atomic bomb would only be used on his say-so. "No dashing Lieutenant-Colonel will decide when the proper time to drop one is".
     
  19. Isot the Terrible Member

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    Assuming the bomb was dropped on China, the USSR would definitely have declared war.

    Soviet conventional troops would have poured into Korea and West Germany.

    A nuclear war is still winnable in 1950. Remember 270 Hiroshimas is less casualties than the USSR and China suffered in WWII.

    I doubt the USSR would attempt to bomb America, instead saving its nuclear bombs for NATO targets in Western Europe.
     
  20. RousseauX Donor

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    What are we talking about, using them in Korea, or using them in China like Mac wanted?